When No. 21 UNC takes the floor at the Dean Dome Thursday night against No. 9 Duke it’ll be the first official matchup between the Duke “brotherhood” and the Carolina “family” since highly-touted recruit Zion Williamson used the new Duke basketball branding term when committing to the Blue Devils just over two weeks ago.

As if UNC and Duke needed any more reasons to hate one another, more fuel was added to the fire recently when Williamson—a 6-foot-7 wing from South Carolina listed by ESPN as the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit—chose the Blue Devils over a list that included UNC and four other schools.

Joel Berry is one of four UNC starters who have been a part of at least five games in the rivalry. (Todd Melet)

The decision came as a shock to many because Duke already had secured commitments from the other two of the nation’s top three recruits, who each stand the same height and play similar positions as Williamson.

While explaining his college choice, however, the man who owns one of the most impressive YouTube highlight reels in the country said the chance to be part of the Duke “brotherhood” was simply too much to pass up.

This, of course, caused controversy among the UNC faithful—who have long held on to the idea of the Carolina “family.”

Tar Heels fans pride themselves on the fact that head coach Roy Williams’ players—not to mention Dean Smith’s players–earn their degrees more often than not, and then return to school to build relationships with current players.

It’s been one of the program’s top recruiting pitches for years, but now the rivals from down the road have taken a similar approach to attracting players that aren’t even expected to stay more than one year in the college game.

“Yeah, they stole it—period,” Williams told reporters at his press conference on Tuesday, with a hearty laugh. “But they’re intelligent. They gave it a new name. So that’s good.

“But I think everybody would like to have their program where they feel like that about it,” the coach continued. “And I think everybody would like to have their players have a strong feeling of family—or brotherhood—whichever one you want to use.”

This year’s edition of the Duke-UNC rivalry is interesting because it seems both schools are acting a bit out of character.

It’s the first time since 2003 that the highest-ranked team in the game has been as low as No. 9.

Then you have the new play styles.

Theo Pinson and the Tar Heels will be looking to avenge a loss suffered to Duke in last year’s ACC Tournamen Semifinals. (Todd Melet)

Behind freshmen forwards Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, the Blue Devils have thrown out their traditional three-point-oriented attack for a more aggressive inside presence that closely resembles the great Tar Heel teams of the past.

On the flip side, UNC lacks the frontcourt depth to play from the inside-out for long stretches—turning the Tar Heels into a traditional Duke squad, which has become heavily reliant on the three-point shot.

Both sides have also had huge problems on defense this year, which has laid the blueprint for a number of high-profile upsets.

If there’s one thing the “brotherhood” issue has reminded everyone, though, it’s that despite what you’ve seen from the on-court product this season—this is still UNC vs. Duke, the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

Let the pettiness fly.

“I was quoted one time as using the word brotherhood, and I did not, because I always say family,” Williams said. “But I haven’t put a hashtag on ours, or anything like that.”

Game Notes:

  • Duke has won six of the last eight meetings in the rivalry.
  • The Tar Heels have a starting lineup consisting of a graduate transfer (Cameron Johnson), two seniors (Joel Berry, Theo Pinson) and two juniors (Luke Maye, Kenny Williams).
  • On the other end, the Blue Devils will start a senior (Grayson Allen) and four freshmen who have never before played in the Duke-UNC rivalry (Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval).


Cover photo via Todd Melet